Maybe AIG ain’t great after all

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More than 40 years ago, my father and his good friend, C. John, had a three-letter code they often tossed back and forth when enjoying their shared passions of fishing, camping and winning nickels playing euchre.

“AIG,” one would say whereupon the other would reply immediately, “You better believe it; AIG.”

Old meaning

AIG meant “Ain’t it great.” It was a statement — “Life is wonderful” — not a question. After I learned the meaning of the code, I often thought it even more wonderful that this odd couple, one an older dairy farmer, the other a younger auto mechanic, could share so much fun that they actually invented a private language to also share the pure joy of it.

Now, of course, the three letters have nothing to do with a farmer and mechanic’s simple pleasures. Instead, AIG has become the epitome of American greed, shady dealing and arrogance, a poster child for more lawlessness than Blackbeard.

The book on the American International Group’s world-shaking debt bomb is yet to be written but a clear, sometimes vulgar, opening chapter should be Matt Taibbi’s explanatory story in the current issue of Rolling Stone.

Read online

It can be read online at www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/26793903/the_big_takeover.

As bad as AIG was (is), Taibbi explains, its buccaneers couldn’t have dumped trillions in debt on an unsuspecting world had not our hired hands in Washington been part of the conspiracy.

During the Clinton presidency, he writes, the Dems curried favor with Wall Street to mine its canyons for campaign cash. Wall Street, filled with really smart people, saw the endgame immediately and signed on, “…flooding Washington with money, buying allies in both parties. In the 10-year period beginning in 1998, financial companies spent $1.7 billion on federal campaign contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists,” Taibbi notes.

Money machines

All that cash was a cheap investment in deregulation and, subsequently, permission to build mega-money machines like Citigroup, Merrill, Morgan and AIG. All had but two key functions: funnel money to their corporate masters of the universe and shovel debt onto the “market” — you and me.

Within a decade, though, the debt became poisonous. Wall Street fat cats then waddled to Washington to again cash in their campaign chits. And boy did they; their antidote, bailout after bailout, now has trillions flowing to, writes Taibbi, a “massive, opaque, quasi-private bureaucratic nightmare…”

Addicts

Worse, when either you or I now inquire about out grandchildrens’ futures, “…before you finish” our financial leaders are “rolling their eyes, because You Don’t Get It. These people were never about anything except turning money into money, in order to get more money; valuewise they’re on par with crack addicts…”

And if Taibbi’s smash-mouth analogy doesn’t make you reach for the antacid, keep in mind that with the ongoing series of too-big-to-fail bailouts instituted under both the Bush and Obama administrations “ …these are the people in whose hands our entire political future now rests.”

Our partners

In short, we’re now partners with these bums.

Even worse, says Taibbi in closing, we’re junior partners: “By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.”

Update

Which leads to a postscript to last week’s column on Meadowbrook Farms Cooperative, the clueless, Rantoul, Ill., pork packer that closed in early February.

On March 20, Meadowbrook filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Federal Bankruptcy Court for the Southern Illinois

District

The filing claimed $28.4 million is assets and $44.1 million in liabilities, much of it owed to hog-producing members.

AIG again.

(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at agcomm@sbcglobal.net.)

© 2009 ag comm

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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